LARAMIE — A recent licensing agreement between the University of Wyoming and a new UW spinout will allow UW Department of Molecular Biology Professor Don Jarvis to commercialize certain aspects of his research. His work involves the use of genetically-engineered insect cells for manufacturing vaccines, diagnostics or therapeutics for use in human and veterinary medicine.
Under the agreement, UW-owned technology will be used by Jarvis' new Laramie-based company, GlycoBac LLC, to create new genetically-engineered insect cell lines optimized for this purpose. Those lines will then be broadly offered throughout the biotechnology community as a new biologics manufacturing platform.
"We always rejoice when UW research can be placed into the broader economy through licensing, and it is doubly important when that includes creating technology businesses in Wyoming as Dr. Jarvis has elected to do," says Bill Gern, UW vice president for research and economic development. "Through such licensing, UW plays a strong role in economic diversification and improving prosperity."
Biologics are a class of protein-based drugs that include vaccines, diagnostic testing reagents and therapeutics, such as high-value cancer-fighting antibodies and proteins that can be used to treat genetic diseases, including diabetes and anemia.
Jarvis and his colleagues have developed a laboratory process they term "glycoengineering," which involves genetically-engineering insect cell sugar and protein production pathways. The process changes the structures of the sugars added to the proteins and enhances their clinical efficacy, or their ability to produce a desired effect.
In its research, Jarvis' team uses cells derived from the fall armyworm, which is an ordinary caterpillar. The cells are put in a nutrient solution, which allows them to grow and divide in the laboratory. A recombinant virus is then added to the cells, which induces the cells to make the protein for subsequent purification, testing and direct use as a biologic.
Unlike conventional drugs, biologics are produced using living cell systems, Jarvis says. Most biologics are produced using mammalian cells, such as those from hamsters or mice. But manufacturing biologics with mammalian cells takes more time.
In addition, the products can sometimes trigger an allergic reaction in humans, and mammalian cells can harbor undetected infectious agents, such as live viruses, that could infect human patients.
Federal grants supported this research and provided many jobs at UW the past 14 years, Jarvis noted. The next step will be to translate that effort to the private sector.
Jarvis says the ability to market the product reflects the direct support of Gern's office; Davona Douglass, director of the Wyoming Research Products Center; Jon Benson, director of the Wyoming Technology Business Center; and a "general atmosphere of support for the entrepreneurial activities of UW faculty, students and staff."
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